Cultural appropriation is the adoption of elements of one culture by another culture, and it is generally viewed in a negative light. There’s usually a pretty strong overtone of the minority whose culture is being adopted in some fashion having problems with the oppression of the majority delighting in those customs.
Now, there are a lot of Pagans out there who will shout out loud with a lot of other minority groups that cultural appropriation is bad. The quickest reference that comes to mind is the Thor movies – practically none of the mythology in those movies is accurate.
It would be easy to see the Thor movies as cultural appropriation – there goes Marvel, borrowing from an ancient people’s faith and twisting the identity of the Gods to suit their purposes. Yeah, let’s get mad at Marvel for creating the Thor movies when Loki’s personality is pretty spot-on. So Marvel changed the background a bit, making Loki and Thor brothers – the personality of the Gods is still pretty accurate (at least as far as Loki is concerned. I’m honestly not comfortable saying that about Thor, as I’m not close to Him).
Now, I could get up in arms about how inaccurate the mythology that they are using is, but I honestly don’t care. You could say that Marvel is using the Gods for their gain, but it would be just as easy to say that the Gods are using Marvel in order to get the exposure They need in order to gain more followers. It can work both ways, and people tend to forget how powerful the Gods are.
Anyway, that’s the easiest case. Now, for a different case I’ve heard of recently: Someone wrote an email to an instructor at Ottawa University complaining about how teaching yoga at a school is cultural appropriation. In response to this email, the school decided to stop offering yoga classes.
Now, my question about this case is – if the culture from whence yoga came is completely fine with the way yoga has spread from the East to the West, is it truly cultural appropriation?
Some people will say yes, and I will call them morons. If a culture doesn’t feel that their way of life is being threatened, then it’s not cultural appropriation. Yoga is Hindu in origin, and, in general, Hindus are okay with Westerners practicing Yoga.
Using images of the Gods of other faiths, unless you are doing it in bad faith and in an attempt to discredit or undermine the validity of the source of that faith, is not cultural appropriation. As an immediate example, if a Jungian Pagan wants to use the faces of certain Gods from different pantheons to represent his or her “Archetype Gods,” then he or she is free to do so, as long as there is a modicum of respect in the way those images are used.
Cultural appropriation has started to replace cultural exchange in everyday language, and the next thing we know, the cultural appropriation movement (if it can be called that) will be getting so out of hand that it will be considered cultural appropriation for a citizen of the United States to drive a Japanese-made car.
Like, there’s a limit to how ridiculous people can be. And if someone wears a Halloween costume to a party that offends someone, then the person who takes offense is the idiot. I mean, seriously, it’s a costume. Let’s draw a line in the sand somewhere.
The real problem with cultural appropriation, when it isn’t truly damaging (there are some cases where it is damaging, such as the problem the Indians are having with the name of the Redskins – that’s damaging, and it needs to be addressed), is that it’s divisive. Damaging incidents, like the one I mentioned, aren’t the kinds of cultural appropriation I’m talking about – issues like that are serious, have potential to cause extreme emotional trauma, and need to be fixed.
The type of cultural appropriation I’m discrediting is the kind that says that teaching yoga is inappropriate even though the culture where it originates encourages the spread of yoga. That’s not cultural appropriation, and it shouldn’t be treated that way.
When a person engages in an activity favored by another culture out of respect and admiration, that isn’t cultural appropriation, but it gets viewed that way. Those are the incidents that could allow for connection but cause division instead. Those are the incidents where the bridges are burnt before they ever get a chance to be laid down.
As an example for myself, I watch tons of anime – I watch almost no other type of television. Because I’m a citizen of the United States, does that mean it’s cultural appropriation for me to enjoy Japanese anime? No, absolutely not. I’m watching the anime because I respect and admire the Japanese people, not because I somehow want to steal their culture.
Humans, as a whole, typically only emulate others when we admire them. And if we are mistreated because we admire someone else, told that we are thieves of the worst order because of our admiration, that causes resentment to build and division to grow. On the other hand, if the people we admire find it respectable for us to admire them, we can build common ground.
If I need to talk more in-depth about what I meant about incidents of cultural appropriation that do need to be dealt with, let me know in the comments. I didn’t discuss them here because I felt they should be obvious, but I could be wrong (Also, let me know if you need me to discuss why it is I disagree with the very concept of being politically correct and policing my speech. I’m willing to do either).